Fighting COVID with fog: Winnipeg schools, gyms and courthouses add additional weapon to pandemic arsenals

By | September 11, 2020

Fogging machines have joined the fight against COVID-19, as schools, gyms and other public gathering places augment their disinfectant arsenals with additional virucidal tools.

While COVID-19 is mainly spread through prolonged close contact with a symptomatic patient, there remains a small but quantifiable chance of contracting the disease by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

This is why high-frequency cleaning has become a standard practice in almost every workplace, business and public amenity.

Some are going the extra mile by using machines that convert disinfectant fluids into aerosols.

After a Grade 7 student at Churchill High School learned she tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, her classroom was decontaminated with an electrostatic sprayer, which converts cleaning fluid into tiny droplets — and imbues each particle with an electric charge.

The theory behind this cleaning method — which is intended to augment conventional cleaning but not replace it —  is the charged disinfectant droplets are more attracted to surfaces through electrostatic forces than they would be by gravity alone.

The Winnipeg School Division initially purchased a Clorox brand electrostatic sprayer with the intention of fogging school buses, division spokesperson Radean Carter said.

The school division is now looking at buying more electrostatic sprayers, she said, but not many, as industrial machines cost as much as $20,000.

“We’re researching some other options to supplement this system for situations where we see the need [for] an added level of disinfection,” Carter said in a statement.

Manitoba Justice also employs fogging machines to cleanse courtrooms in addition to conventional cleaning. The provincial courthouse in Winnipeg uses an Environize-brand fogging machine to sanitize courtrooms and high-traffic areas with a disinfectant based on hypochlorous acid, provincial spokesperson Julie De Voin said in a statement.

Machines like this are beyond the means of small businesses to acquire. Some have purchased smaller versions in order to give their customers added confidence they won’t contract COVID-19.

Fukumoto Fitness owner Johnny Fukumoto wields a Victory electrostatic disinfectant sprayer at his North Kildonan gym. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

At Fukumoto Fitness in North Kildonan, workout spaces are cleaned conventionally after every customer visit and then sprayed with a handheld Victory electrostatic disinfectant gun.

“We needed something to be more effective and quicker, since we had to increase cleaning tenfold,” said owner Johnny Fukumuto, who researched a number of electrostatic sprayers before settling on the $2,000 Victory device.

“It uses the least amount of product over a surface area, so when we’re doing this thousands of times, we know that we’re doing it in the most economical way, as well as being the most thorough,” he said.

“I don’t know if there’s any other gym who has this exact model, because it is expensive for a small business.”

Public health authorities in both Canada and the U.S. warn disinfectant fogging can not replace conventional cleaning.

“It is not clear whether electrostatic spraying is more effective than conventional surface disinfection methods for COVID-19,” Ontario’s Public Health ministry stated in a fact sheet published in July.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer agreed with this assessment of electrostatic devices, which is based on American research.

“I think the evidence is still out on that, but if we are adhering to the normal protocols, this is good and this may add an additional benefit,” Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday.

Handheld aerosol devices do have one advantage over conventional cleaning: It’s way more fun to wave around a fogging gun than it is to wipe floors on your hands and knees.

“It is fun,” Fukumoto said. “We have a small cleaning team, but one guy actually pretends he goes on secret missions and really has a good time with it.

“We took some Christmas pictures already as a team and the favourite one so far is him in the front, in his mission stance with the gun.”

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